2019 High-End Audio Buyer’s Guide: Stand-Mounted Loudspeakers Under $1,000
Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2
It’s little; it’s vinyl clad; it’s dirt cheap; and it sounds terrific. The B5 compact represents the first effort in what should be a long and fruitful collaboration between Elac and its celebrated VP of Engineering, Andrew Jones. The B5 is robust in the mid and upper bass, but the real difference is how everything comes together in such an exquisitely balanced and musical fashion. NG instinctively connected with the basic honesty of the B5 sound and was gobsmacked by its bargain-basement price. What Jones and the Elac team have managed to ring from this most humble of designs is nothing short of exceptional.
Wharfedale Diamond 11.1
The middle level of the three available stand-mounts in the updated Wharfedale 11 line, the Diamond 11.1 is a two-way stand-mount with a 1″ textile dome tweeter and a 5″ woven Kevlar mid/bass in a curved enclosure that tapers back from the baffle. With its moderate sensitivity (87dB), reviewer DK found the 11.1 easy to drive, even with his First Watt J2. Your typical boxy bookshelf speaker can feel a little veiled or muted in the midrange, but the 11.1 avoids this problem (thanks to that curvy enclosure). Mids feel projected and effortless, polished in a really nice way, with no boxy veil. The bass floor isn’t very deep, so excitement is somewhat diminished, and low-end rhythm and timing take a hit. Still and all, the Diamond 11.1s never failed to keep DK engaged and always did justice to his favorite records. “They just sounded simple and good.”
Elac Uni-Fi UB5
How do you follow an act like the Elac Debut B5? If you’re designer Andrew Jones, there’s only one route: engineering one of his trademark concentric drivers for a sub-$500 three-way compact. Sonically, if you loved the Debut B5, you’re going to really love the UB5; it’s the B5 gone to finishing school. There’s greater specificity, body, and focus to images—all trademarks of a concentric driver. Add to that a sibilance range that is natural, sharp, and quick, like the live event. Plus there is rock-solid 50Hz midbass output, similar to the B5 but much more controlled and less reliant on the port. While there’s still a bit of veiling and the UB5 doesn’t fully shed its enclosure, let’s get real—this Elac is competitive with speakers well beyond its price segment. It might just be the best five hundred bucks you’ll ever spend.
Revel Concerta2 M16
A feast for the eyes and ears, the M16 has been refreshed with smartly contoured enclosures, high-gloss finishes, and elegant design accents. Sonically, Revel doesn’t make wallflowers, and the M16 follows suit dramatically. Its dynamic, uncompromising midband, good overall speed, and excellent inter-driver coherence all happily conspire to generate a tonal ripeness that belies the speaker’s tiny stature. Easily the most enthralling aspects of the M16’s performance are the fullness and cohesiveness of its soundstage and imaging. The M16 doesn’t paint small sonic landscapes—a sense of immersion and “widescreen” scale are two of its most distinctive characteristics. A compact budget loudspeaker that maintains classic Revel virtues.
GoldenEar Technology Aon 3
GoldenEar’s Aon 3 is an attempt to capture the beautifully focused, revealing, and coherent sound of today’s best two-way stand-mount monitors at a down-to-earth price. An “augmented” two-way, it combines a 7″ wide-bandwidth mid/bass driver with a Heil-type tweeter, and two side-mounted passive radiators to extend bass depth and punch. The result is a monitor that provides agile, detailed, and nuanced mids and highs, while serving up a low end that is unexpectedly full-bodied and that matches the quality of the speaker’s midrange and treble. Care in placement and setup is needed for best results. Those listeners willing to sacrifice some of the Aon 3’s extended low-frequency performance may find GoldenEar’s slightly smaller Aon 2 offers even more compelling three-dimensional imaging.